When word got out that the contracts five news anchors from WTEV-CBS 47 and WAWS-Fox 30 wouldn’t be renewed, it quickly became a hot topic — at least to people around City Council President Bill Gulliford.
In response, Gulliford has offered his observations of the company’s decision to Cox Media Group President Bill Hoffman.
In a letter to Hoffman dated Tuesday on council letterhead, Gulliford said the move by Action News is “getting a lot of push back in the community.”
“I have heard it constantly since the story broke,” Gulliford wrote. “People are challenging the wisdom of such a move and questioning whether Cox Media really gets the local aspect of their operation here.”
When asked about the letter, Gulliford said he heard a little more background about the situation from one of the anchors after an interview. After hearing about the situation, he said he didn’t “think someone up the line understands what Jacksonville is about.”
“I think they exercised bad judgment,” he said.
Gulliford said he cares about the people who report Jacksonville news and that having a local, knowledgeable perspective from such people is important. With their departure, it would mean a new crop of individuals without such knowledge that would create a “disconnect.”
He wrote he was “impressed” with the direction of the media operation and how the station had been “nipping at the heels” of another station when it came to political and community news coverage.
Station anchors Paige Kelton, Mark Spain, Lynnsey Gardner, and Tera and Mike Barz have been told their contracts weren’t being renewed.
Gulliford said he had no relationships or personally knows the anchors, but felt compelled to let his opinion be known because “they are part of our community” and know Jacksonville.
In the letter, he said he hoped the situation is salvageable and receives consideration.
“I apologize if you think I am taking excessive liberties with this letter but frankly if the shoe was on the other foot, I would certainly want to know,” he wrote.
Jim Kowalski, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, also sent a letter to the station manager at Action News questioning the decision to not renew Kelton’s contract.
He said Kelton had “spent enough time in the trenches with community leaders” to gain their trust. “She is active with several nonprofits, cares deeply and has proven her commitment to local issues,” he said. “Being genuinely nice helps. As a result, where other media outlets will get sound bites, Paige will get the rest of the story.”
Kowalski said he wasn’t sure if it was too late for management to rescind the decision or if Kelton would consider staying with Action News. “But I think you are making a mistake in not recognizing how valuable relationship and reputations are, particularly in Jacksonville, and how much time and effort Paige has put into establishing hers,” his letter concluded.